If it feels like transphobia has become the most common word on everyone’s tongue, or keyboard, you’re not wrong. Trans people have been warning us for years that hate crimes, bigotry, and casual occurrences of transphobia have become more common than ever before. In the Western world, legislation targeting trans people dominates headlines and conversations. Perhaps worse still, acts of physical violence become more familiar, almost universal. “A pandemic within a pandemic,” says one Harvard student, decrying the rise in hate crimes against Black trans women. Government officials in the UK have reported a more than 15% rise in anti-trans hate crimes across the nation.
If you’ve been paying attention to ever-changing political conversation in the allegedly developed world, this wave of anti-trans sentiment shouldn’t surprise you given the parallel rise of nationalist political rhetoric. More specifically, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that understands the inherent ties between white supremacist ideology and transphobic beliefs. The constant refrain of “well, scientifically speaking…” is familiar to anyone acquainted with eugenic thought experiments throughout history. Sad tales of declining birth rates are a common lead-in to the argument that nationalism isn’t really about racism, just the preservation of the “family.” The family being, of course, a homogeneous blend of patriarchal norms and “ideal” genetics.
And if you haven’t been paying attention, “it’s just a few bad apples,” might come to mind. Scientifically speaking, bad apples often spring from compromised roots. White supremacy is most insidious because it creates false comfort. From empty platitudes about “representation” and seats at the proverbial table to ultimately meaningless conversations about the validity and importance of identity politics — white supremacy thrives because it gives people small, token moments that feel good but offer them nothing material.
You’re welcome to call it “economic insecurity” if it helps soften the blow, but everyone likes to feel powerful. White supremacy and its ideological offshoots thrive, often unnoticed, because they target the deepest insecurities about “otherness” that we share.
Black people, disabled people, trans people, migrants, the most impoverished are an often visual representation of everything that just doesn’t fit. In a word, those most likely to exist outside of “traditional” means of employment and socioeconomic mobility are the most likely to be targeted for identity-based hatred while simultaneously being bombarded with messages of “class solidarity.” The darker the skin, the more visually disparate from our surroundings, the less pleasing and familiar to the ear someone’s cadence is — the more obviously they stand out. This makes the most marginalized of us easier to identify and more available for use as a scapegoat.
This othering can be simple enough to recognize — the 44 trans people murdered in 2020, for example. It can be simple enough to understand — crimes against Asian people rising by almost 150% in 2020 in the wake of former President Trump’s violent, inflammatory language surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. But it can be more insidious, more commonplace, more difficult to identify.
The hypersexualization of Asian women that leads to a white man murdering 8 people in an effort to “eliminate temptation”…
The fetishization of Black women as sexually promiscuous and uninhibited, thus making them “unrapeable”…
The discomfort with trans women justifying their murders in courtrooms…
The fear of non-normative bodies leading adults to openly and unashamedly debate and discuss the genitalia of minors in legislative proceedings…
And so, the more commonalities we can find and identify with the hierarchical “winners,” the easier it is to say, “don’t look at me, i’m just like you.” The less identifiable we are as “other,” the easier it is for us to blend in, deflect, and point out the identifiable flaws in others. For white women, particularly cishet white women, this is a simple enough task. They are near indistinguishable from the ones that hold the most power. If the slightest alignment with those beneath them paints a target on their backs, what incentive is there to upset the status quo? So long as they remain positioned above everyone else, there is less ground for them to cover in their ascent to the top. Token protests against misogyny and sexism will abound but rarely, if ever, will those protests extend to those below.
For those of us on the bottom of said hierarchy, the inability (or refusal) to understand this simple leap of logic, is most frustrating from those who claim to understand the allegedly common class struggle. Ideals of “comrades” and “class consciousness” ring hollow when confronted with the reality that even those who espouse the most progressive of ideals are still susceptible to the “master’s tools.” Self-professed “leftists” (and other assorted communists, socialists, anarchists, etc.) are still promoting eugenic, transphobic, whorephobic, and/or racist, nationalist talking points with cherry-picked verses from the theological schools of Marx, Stalin, Mao, and others.
“State sanctioned sex buying is inherently imperialist because supply to meet the insatiable western demand needs to come from somewhere..”
“The material reality is that the emergence of gender fluidity is symptomatic of late capitalism. Gender and race are bound to disappear as political categories in a communist society!”
The same people then turn their old, tired arguments on the rest of us, admonishing us for not seeing the same reality as them. The reality, that paints trans people, sex workers, Black and indigenous people decrying the racism, whorephobia, and transphobia within their ranks, and migrants without privilege of status — as dangerous heretics looking to sow discord and stop progress in its tracks.
The draw of leftist political ideology — and its many hyphenated camps — is that it creates a world where liberation is more than a pipe dream. It makes real the hope that socioeconomic policy changes can undo centuries of colonial, fascist, white supremacist violence in the blink of an eye. Si se puede, or something I guess. But this short-sightedness comes at the expense of people without the privilege of thought experiments that don’t address the reality of their tenuous survival. Endless conversations on dialectical materialism, class wars, and late-stage capitalism do little to address the current realities that plague visibly non-white people, trans people, and sex workers. The violent realities of capitalism have real, tangible consequences for people most affected by white supremacist violence and the constant refrain of “do the reading” does nothing to address them. The most oppressed people can not take a gamble on the theoretical liberation promised to them by (usually white) leftists admonishing them for how they survive capitalism. There is little to recommend aligning themselves with people who deny their agency, humanity, and lived experiences. At best, it is a tenuous proposal that might pay off after they are dead. And herein lies the greatest mistake that proponents of anti-capitalist thought continue to make. The insistence on denying the varied experiences of those most affected by capitalism will be the very thing that continues to divide us all. Because class consciousness cannot come until liberation acknowledges all of us, makes room for the realities we do not share.
excellent piece, looking forward to reading more of your work!
Really good piece, a lot of hard truths many in the white/western left don’t want to acknowledge. Capitalism isn’t going anywhere in the Americas if the roots of colonialism, white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism aren’t torn out along with it, as you said.
I’d like to believe that a world without these systems in power is possible because the alternative within our lifetimes is worse than what anyone can imagine. But so far the left in the Global North has proven itself incapable of taking real power, instead spending time endlessly debating theory and the past, or worse edging towards national socialism. So I get the cynicism.
Weird how you don’t mention antisemitism-start putting that in the forefront of your vocabulary because its one of THE cornerstones of white supremacy.
Thank you, Adrie Rose, for naming all of this!
Wow. I read your article as an attack – not on those who hold power, not on the rich and oppressors, but on the very people trying to fight to end oppression.
I agree that anti-capitalists need to make sure that the experiences of all oppressed people are heard and part of the struggle, and not turn against or berate us for doing what we have to to survive. I agree that some left people and/or movements have failed to do that.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s not give up the fight. Let’s not give up learning from the past, discussing what we need for a better future and fighting to achieve it. And most of all let’s not give up joint, unified, militant action to end the exploitation of the most oppressed.
So I disagree. Si se puede.
Expressing frustration is not an attack. And Adrie is not arguing we should “give up the fight.” I encourage you to read the piece again.
It’s super weird to select a smattering of very random tweets with less than 6 likes as references when trying trying to explain why anti-capitalists as a whole are misguided. This article feels very under researched and so out of touch with leftist politics or even leftist online culture. You even completely misunderstood one of said random tweets… the one about gender was clearly saying that capitalism is what defined and enforced the gender binary and that as capitalism is dying out/failing, we’re starting to see more gender fluidity emerging openly because the gender binary is also failing, and without capitalism, those categories will go away. That is absolutely not anti-trans…it’s the opposite. I don’t know of a single leftism who thinks that oppression will go away “in the blink of an idea”. Just because some are suddenly becoming hip to this movement doesn’t erase the long history of socialism and leftism or the huge victories that have been made in the very, very long struggle that continues.
I found the line that “the violent realities of capitalism have real, tangible consequences for people most affected by white supremacist violence and the constant refrain of ‘do the reading’ does nothing to address them” to be very odd. It seems that you realize that capitalism and white supremacy are entangled – therefore, you should understand that anti-capitalism is more immediately necessary for the very people you say should be centered, yet also say anti-capitalism isn’t for. If the leftists you’ve encountered are going around telling marginalized people to do the reading and admonishing them for doing things to survive capitalism, you’ve discovered a bizarre pool of faux-Leftists.
I’ll preface by disclosing that I consider myself to be functionally neoliberal. Since theory is nothing without praxis, and if I’m not actively working to dismantle then what am I doing, right? I do try, though, to stay up and up on lefty talk. So I’m listening. And I’m trying to figure out how to spread the word, to people who aren’t current with the lingo, who probably don’t already have an academic background. I wish I knew how best to broach the issue with people who aren’t as immersed, because most people really aren’t reading the discourse, whether on twitter or elsewhere, maybe because English is their second language, maybe ’cause they have other priorities, or because surviving capitalism eats up all their time. And I’m having difficulty knowing when to interrupt and how to, without soapboxing.
To be honest, when a conversation gets uncomfortable, sometimes it does feel like I’m downplaying real concerns with my bougie talking points. It feels like I’m resorting to bringing up “white supremacy” which functionally is not always a far cry from “economic insecurity” or “not all [x]” to deflect uncomfortable truths. I feel the same when I see others in this position talk down to our communities. Explanations sound like excuses, don’t they, when all we do is talk around a problem without offering concrete solutions? And how can I engage in honest discussion if what I’m doing is trying to steer the audience toward what I believe to be the correct conclusion?
Maybe this piece isn’t about that; the focus is on the “self-professed leftists” who lack “incentive  to upset the status quo” and need a wakeup call. OK. I’ve come across enough accelerationists online that, yes, I do believe there are plenty such “leftists” who are complacently waiting for other people to do the work. And not just any people, but an underclass who is expected to rise up out of true desperation because they must, because they can no longer tolerate these conditions. And that’s…damning, isn’t it, that this is considered to be a logical course of (in)action, waiting for the masses to achieve what we won’t. Truth is, people can and will put up with a lot. People can be made desperate and still not feel desperate enough to resort to revolution. If, eventually, heightening the contradictions does serve to break society into a better world, change will have come at too high the human cost.
One more thought. “Scientifically speaking, bad apples often spring from compromised roots.” Yes! Scientifically speaking, what’s rotten also has a way of ruining the adjacent fruit / wood / what have you etc., if not removed. And when you wait too long, ends up everything’s contaminated so it all has to go. Metaphorically, the choice is obvious. And in real life, we know enough to be dissatisfied by “progress” that’s too easy to undo.
But. In the choice between reform or revolution, one choice we assert as ineffectual. The other…can we actually commit to making it happen? Doubtful.
Big shocker. Another neoliberal hack that refuses to see the connection between economics and susceptibility to prejudices.
When the last forest is burning down on Earth, some cable news watcher will be complaining that there is +1 straight white male on the firefighting team.
Here is Europe, where it’s mostly white folks, we’re much better to each other. A big part of that is because we aren’t all fighting over a tiny slice of the pie.
The power structures are based on class, not race, gender, or orientation. It’s how someone like Condi Rice, gay, black, and a woman, can achieve fantastic power in the USA.
All that matters in America, even with so-called liberals, is that you do unhinged McCarthyism and turn a blind eye as public money bails out private banks.
Or are you forgetting the country elected a black man with a Muslim name? But he governed as a centre-right Republican, so identity liberals hero worship him.
The power structures are based on class, not race, gender, or orientation. It’s how someone like Condi Rice, gay, black, and a woman, can achieve fantastic power in the 德國必邦屈臣氏